THINK of The Sound of music and the hills of Austria spring to mind.
But the world-famous musical has a connection with Bolton, as members of an amateur dramatics society were fascinated to discover.
Bolton Catholic Musical and Choral Society (BCMCS) is staging the production this week.
Neville Grady, BCMCS general secretary, said: “Most people will know the musical is based on the story of The Trapp Family Singers, but what they may not know is the connection of the von Trapp family with Bolton.
“The great-grandfather of the von Trapp children, Robert Whitehead, was born in Bolton in 1823 and went to Bolton Grammar School.”
Mr Whitehead’s eldest son, John, married a member of an aristocratic Viennese family and they had six children, including a daughter Agathe, who married Captain Georg von Trapp, a young Austrian naval officer, in 1911.
They had seven children but Agathe died of scarlet fever in 1919 and, in 1926, Georg enlisted the help of a novice nun, Maria Kuschera, who had trained to become a teacher.
Georg and Maria married in 1927, had three more children of their own, and the story of the stepmother and mother of the Trapp Family Singers was the inspiration for a 1956 German film that led to the Broadway musical.
The link was researched by local historian Denis O’Connor, the father of BCMCS member Kathryn Wilkinson who is making her debut as production manager in the Sound of Music.
Mr O’Connor, from Breightmet, wrote to Maria Von Trapp, who was living in Vermont, US, in 1971.
The pair kept in touch and when Kathryn married in 1975, Maria sent a telegram to be read out at the reception.
Mr Grady’s wife Pat, BCMCS chairman, said: “We found it fascinating there was a connection. Kathryn is very involved in the show and her husband is the treasurer of the society.” Maria died in 1987 and Denis went on to provide information to the eldest of the Von Trapp daughters, also called Agathe, for her autobiography, which was published in 2003.
Mrs Grady added: “Apparently they didn’t know a lot about Robert Whitehead. I suppose because their mother had died, they were not getting the information as you would do normally.”
The Sound of Music is the 20th consecutive production for David Wilson as musical director for BCMCS and Captain von Trapp will be played by David Glynn-Whitehead.
It runs until Saturday at the Albert Halls, Bolton. Call 01204 334400.